Are We Alone Out There? How Many Of Us Are There?

How Large Are We?

Last week, fellow Woody Boater Don Ayers asked the question to us here at Woody Boater that has been one of the great unknowns of of our hobby, passion,sport, lifestyle and or culture. “How many folks are in the hobby? ” The truthful answer is I don’t know. I have ideas, theories, conclusions.. But I am wondering if I have it right. As Woody Boater grows, I am always surprised by the numbers. The new folks we meet, and the amount of folks that are deep into the hobby, that don’t know about Woody Boater. I am not trying to be egotistical about numbers of who knows and who doesn’t. Last year when the ACBS voted on a thing with us. Half the board had never heard of Woody Boater? Does that mean that what ever numbers we are seeing as traffic, that just among the sick ones, that we are only reaching half. If that is so, the numbers in the world of classic boats is not to shabby! Much much larger than the 5,000 many think. My best estimate is about 50,000 folks. That’s right, about 50,000 folks in the world are into in one sort of way, into classic boats. Now, I am not talking about engaged ones by the way. I am going to guess here, The ACBS has roughly 7,000 members, Classic Boating lets say 5,000 subscribers, and Woody Boater has about 200,000 unique visitors a year. About 18,000 a month. I am factoring in idiots that think that Woody Boater is a porn site for boat sex.. Don’t laugh.. I get offers.. It’s why we had to buy  Not funny after a while.. A long while, still have not reached that part yet actually. I am still laughing.. Sorry I digress..  You cant go by insurance stats since its all over the place regarding companies. Then there is the engaged, but not that engaged crowd. last years Reedville Show, had 45 boats, only 5 were ACBS members. Is that about right? Take the Sunnyland show. Not everyone that goes to the show, or any show is all engaged, but clearly interested. One can not just measure the world of classic boats, by boat ownership or restoration either. The “culture” of classic boats is probably 10 times larger. Folks that want to live the lifestyle of classic style is were the market is. How large is the market for old 1930’s cars? Small, Hot Rodding, 10 times larger, add in fashion and culture. It changes the business model. It’s all about image and opening up the world of Classic Boats to other images. Then we can truly see the size of our world. Any input you may have would be helpful. We are about to launch an entirely new way of doing business for the hobby and are deeply interested in what may factor in as a possible market. Your opinion as usual is greatly appreciated.

45 replies
  1. tommy holmes
    tommy holmes says:

    Let’s keep it a mystery, more fun.

    However, here are some stats that I have computed in the past FYI.
    7300 ACBS Members
    3500 Chris Craft ABC Members
    1200 Century Club members
    800 Lyman Club members

    60% of Marque Club members are not ACBS members.

    run some calculations and you arrive at 10,600 engaged, club members in the largest clubs.

    factor in family size
    factor in small craft (much less ACBS %) and the not so many large craft and don’t even think about sail craft, and you might be around 20,000.
    200K, unique visitors? you must be counting spiders.

    lots of luck.

  2. Matt
    Matt says:

    My stats are ultra conservative for wb. With spyders an crap it’s about 3 times more. The server stats are so insane it’ hard to be realistic.

    • Paul H.
      Paul H. says:

      I think Tommy has figured out how many bobbyists may be represented by the clubs, but there are probably multiples of that number out there that are not affiliated with any organization, they are just boaters. I am not certain how many individuals are represented by the 7400 or so ACBS members – probably 11 or 12k, but I can say many members of the CCABC, the ACBS and other clubs also own multiple boats so coutning boats might not be accurate. I would take a guess and say that no more than a third, and probably a quarter or less, classic boaters are represented by club memberships.

  3. Greg Lewandowski
    Greg Lewandowski says:

    I know a lot of people that attend our chapter boat shows every year, but would never consider buying a classic (wood or glass) boat. They come because it takes them back to a part of their life that was much happier and more fun. They love seeing and hearing the boats as a nostalgea trip. Lets call them lookers. If you include them in your focus group, you may be over 100K, but if you don’t I agree with Tommy Holmes that the number is considerably less.
    Our task as the engaged ones ( I have been called a lot worse) is to convince the lookers that they could get a lot more out of their interest in classic boats if they got engaged. This might not initially involve buying a boat, but joining a chapter and getting to understand more about what it is all about. I will keep trying to spread that faith, and hopefully convert a few more, and save some more classic boats from the chainsaw or bonfire.

  4. Cschmaltz
    Cschmaltz says:

    Ok how many wood boats were mass produced between 1900 & say 1970 ?? I heard there are 15,000 classic boats in MN. alone. My past experience in the hobby indicated over 60% of all classics on the water are in 6 States…..then start to consider glass production…

  5. Paul H.
    Paul H. says:

    I don’t know the answer but my felling is that the anser is “many more than we think”. The number is influenced by the definitions that various folks apply to the term “hobby member”, and quantifying the level of hobbyist/boater engagement is challenging. But, Chris is onto something – add the emerging classic of fiberglass and the boom in boating that occurred in the ’60’s and ’70’s and the number gets big. I think that the clubs and the ACBS have really only scratched the surface – how many users registered at Fiberglassics, does anybody have a good handle on that? I haven’t looked. I am registered there but almost never access it.

    If anyone thinks that the ACBS, any of the marque clubs or WB have a a lions share of hobbyists already engaged, I would say they are grossly mistaken. I think that that the hobby remains very fragemented, and that makes knowing how many are out there almost impossible.

  6. Cobourg-Kid
    Cobourg-Kid says:

    Dang Matt! First it’s “What’s under the blue tarp”. Now it’s a blatent invitation to guess how woody boater is going to revolutionize the classic boat universe! I think ( and pretty sure Alex W would agree) that the daily suspense is just too much for mere mortals !

    Sorry can’t hold back with the guessing game . Given the clues provided , is there any possibility that you and Texx are secretly devising some sort of goodwoodeque revival for classic boaters ?

  7. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    I read these post with interest…..some…..I swear!!!….ok, a little….

    I don’t know how many of US there are, but I am “going boating”, today, and I will be the only one out there….old boat or new.

    I plan to wake up on the Chesapeake on my old cruiser tomorrow morning, have some breakfast, head home later in the day…and maybe,finally, turn on the radio to see who won.

    John in Va.

  8. m-fine
    m-fine says:

    I think the clubs are the tip of the iceberg and probably no more than 20% of the owners. A compilation of production numbers would certainly help estimate a max possible size even if you are just guessing at survival rates.

    That would only cover the major brands of power boats. Classic wood canoes and row boats won’t show up in the numbers, nor would crazy Argentinian runabouts.

    Then there are the non-owner interested parties. Wear your WB clothing in public and you are bound to meet someone who knows about the site but who is not a woody owner (yet?). Do you want to count them, and how?

    The crazy thing to me is 50% of the ACBS board did not know about a website that reaches a swath of the hobby several times larger than what they reach. Their mission statement is to represent all facets of the hobby so that admission should be an embarrassment and a call to action. Hopefully that is the type of thing the new Director will address.

    • Paul H.
      Paul H. says:

      Matt- I can assure you that 100% of the ACBS BOD knows about WB and has done almost since the inception of the site. Additionally, a number of them post here regularly – two of us have done so this morning in fact. What we, like Matt, question is the size of the hobby. Membership numbers are easy to report, so are website visits, unique visits and similar metrics. But, what all that really means is less easy to quantify. That I think is the point of Matt’s topic today.

      I am not sure where you have noted any comment from an ACBS person that suggest 50% of the BOD knew about WB – to my knowledge that claim has not been asserted and if it has, it is totally incorrect.

      • m-fine
        m-fine says:

        Paul, as posted by “the other Matt” who hangs around here…

        “Last year when the ACBS voted on a thing with us. Half the board had never heard of Woody Boater? ”

        Now Matt has been known to be spelling and geographically challenged so perhaps he was in error here as well. I sure hope so. They don’t need to be regular readers or posters, but they should be well aware about what Woodyboater is.

        • matt
          matt says:

          I recall a conversation and vote, in which we were voted down by the ACBS Board. So lets say the majority either did not know who we were, or disliked us. I know thats changed, but was reflective of not the ACBS but the hobby. Its hard to know of WB if you are not on the web! The statement was not intended to be a ding, or state that being aware of Woody Boater is some sort of good thing, or sign of approval. Just a measurement device.

          • m-fine
            m-fine says:

            Disapproving or not liking WB is fine. The concern would be if they simply didn’t know. If you are concerned about reaching younger generations (as in younger than 65!) you need to be on the web and you need to be aware of where the online wooden boat conversations are occurring. That would be here, boat buzz and chez Danenberg for the runabout/utility crowd. I would hope all club leaders would know about these places and at least understand their role in the community and the potential each offers.

  9. Chuck Crosby
    Chuck Crosby says:

    The number is definitely larger than all the ACBS and the Marque Club members combined, but not at a multiple of greater than 10, I would argue maybe at 6 or 7….

    Take me for example, I sold my 1947 CC deluxe runabout about 5 years ago and now own a 2007 Cobalt 20.5. My best guess is I will purchase a CC U-22 project boat within the next couple of years. Yet, I read the Woodyboater most every mornings and have never been a member of ACBS or the Chris Craft ABC.

  10. John Rothert
    John Rothert says:

    M-fine is certainly right about wearing the hobby.
    I almost always wear a hat or shirt or sweatshirt that touts my interest in the hobby, and often people express their interest upon noticing.
    Be proud of the hobby, wear it.
    John in Va.

  11. Dick Dow
    Dick Dow says:

    Factor in yacht cubs, various racing organizations (power and sail) and boat repair/preservation/education foundations and the number explodes. There are thousands of individuals engaged in classic boating in one sense or another. Is it important to know how many? Is it possible? Probably not.

    I’ve never met a boater who did not appreciate the classic boats that we and our friends put on the water. The most common comment? ” Man that must be a lot of work!” The most common sentiment? – “I really want to have one of those some day – or at least get a ride in one!”

    Whatever the number is – every boater is a potential classic boat enthusiast. At least that’s how I look at it…

  12. Gary
    Gary says:

    As a thought are the readers of WB each day per month a total of 30 hits or counts on your web site? If so then then adjust for the depraved souls that have to have a fix every morning. Also consider smartphone access to your web site, those hits might be the same depraved ones trying to get a late day fix.
    Smartphone access could be improved.
    Unfortunately I go along with Dick Dow and his experience. At the winter boat show our woodies attract a lot of people who love them but leave them alone.

  13. Jon Cottrell
    Jon Cottrell says:

    I live in a canal community in MI about 20 miles from Algonac on Lake St. Clair and there are about 150 homes all of which have boats I’d say 10 of us have woodies and I’m probably the only one affiliated with any club (although not really engaged). I would say I’m the only one that may take a boat to a show but we all love the lifestyle. I know this is a small sample size but it does represent a group of boaters close to, dare I say it, ‘where it all began’ but it is a 10:1 not engaged to engaged ratio. I also know several other woody boaters that just want to enjoy their boat and do not feel the need to be part of a group they just want to woody boat.

  14. Andreas
    Andreas says:

    I just checked and I have 553 names in my mailing list for the Thompson Antique & Classic Boat Rally. I know that does not scratch the surface of folks that own a Thompson boat. I also bet that no more than 10% of those 553 are members of ACBS. How many Lyman owners are there in the two or three Lyman clubs? And how many of them are ACBS members?

    you are correct in the assumption that there are a lot more vintage boats out there than thought and many more people interested than are members of one of the associations.

    I would guess there are 100 classic/vintage wooden boats on Lake Minnetonka that NEVER come to any events of the local ACBS chapter. Nor do their owners participate. Add the old fiberglass and aluminum watercraft and sailboats (which everyone seams to ignore) and multiply that by the hundreds of lakes in North America and we have not even begun to tap the potential.

    Andreas Jordahl Rhude

    • Paul H.
      Paul H. says:

      Andreas, I think you have hit the nail on the head here. There is an enormous well of boaters out there who just boat, or want little or at most a very lose association with any organized hobby-based entity or organization. As big as the organized car hobby is, I bet the same findings would also apply there.

      I am an example of that – I have a 1954 International Harvester Travelall but belong to no car clubs whatsoever. When I feel like driving it, I get in and drive it – that’s it.

      I think you are also correct that there is potential for all the organizations and groups to increase their membership rolls, it’s just a matter of connecting and presenting a value proposition to an existing classic boater who is looking for such an experience, or “lifestyle”. Clearly not all are.

      • Brian Robinson
        Brian Robinson says:

        I’ve had a ’57 Chevy Bel-Air 2-dr since I was 15. I don’t belong to any car clubs and don’t even take Hot Rod magazine anymore. But I am still “into” cars.

        • matt
          matt says:

          This is what my point is about this story today. If one takes the position that 10% of folks that like something, join clubs and such. That would mean about 50,000 folks are engaged in the classic boat world. On a larger note. I would estimate that hundreds of thousands or not millions like and appreciate the classic woody boats for what they are. I would also point out, that more folks dislike clubs and such, then do. So, its very hard to think that the lifestyle of classic boating is only tied to the number of folks that subscribe, or belong to anything. Woody Boater is out to reach all folks out there regardless of interest level.

        • Paul H.
          Paul H. says:

          old vacuums, a number of operating and usable mid-century and earlier small appliances, lots of books and a few antique or otherwise useful items. Oh, and a 1954 International Harvester R-130 11/2 ton grain truck – restored. BMW motorcycles for Karen and I, too much crap, Randy!

          I like mid-century industrial design and I have bought a few old vacuums and appliances that display this aesthetic – these are more accessible than a GM Intercity bus or a Spartan Trailer. That’s about it. Oh, and a beater truck! If I send you a picture, can it be beater of the day?

  15. Alex
    Alex says:

    Hi John (Rothert). FYI, you were not the only one on the water. I took a gasp today in Hessel. (Note that it was not a “last” gasp.)

    Went to Hessel to vote. So today, while I was a motorboater, I was also a WoodyVoter.

  16. brian t
    brian t says:

    I do not think a number is ever going to be possible. Too many variables. We belong to the ACBS but not the local chapter. So am I sort of engaged or what? I never see those members except for the one local boat show each year. Folks love our boat and they appreciate the beauty but they also would never think of taking the plunge that we did for thousands of reasons. My point – we are on the fringe of the hobby and we use our boat at every chance – how are we counted, or are we ?

  17. Simon
    Simon says:

    Is this not the type of thing your relationship with Hagerty can help you get a better picture of? Although they are not the only option for coverage their market research along with the hard numbers they have with existing policies could be a great start.
    Approaching them about a question or 2 on the online renewal or paper version could expose even more information – I am sure with your advertising and marketing experience 2 or 3 key questions could reveal a huge amount about the wooden boat hobby or maybe a better descriptor would be “wooden boat movement”

  18. BigRed
    BigRed says:

    I don’t know the details, but I’d be careful about using WB views as an indicator. Besides the things you mentioned, I may log on from whatever is most convienent: my cell, iPad, work, home, cabin, wife’s phone, etc…. I would be quite a few ‘unique visitors’ each month. Don’t worry though, I’m not a club member, so I don’t get counted there – Evens out I guess.

  19. Kevin
    Kevin says:

    i had a long reply typedup thought i submitted it but guess its lost in space. I am the young guy most places. I restore antique cars for a living. And have been into antique boats for only 2 years now. I also am an antique dealer. but its a hard thing to establish numbers when there is so many uncounted out there and some dont wish to be counted. my fiancee and i live the vintage life style too clothes from the 20s-40s, all antiques in our house, i see more of the younger generation getting more into the cars but not so much the boats. But its a tricky thing to establish an unkown. We are working on a vintage lifestyle magazine that well specialize in antique boats, cars clothing, and antiques and living the lifestyle. stil in the planning stages right now. but hoping itll reach a younger generation to draw them in

  20. Loren Sattler
    Loren Sattler says:

    My estimate is 1/2% of the collector car market. Not sure how big that is, but feels like a reasonable ratio.

  21. Tyson K.
    Tyson K. says:

    Kevin, I’m with you. I have a few ’59 Chevy Parkwood wagons, and a ’63 Greenbrier Van. I spent 6 hours today in an antique mall in Washington. Although I have been into boats for years, I am only 1 of a couple people into old boats. And I don’t get why. They are affordable for the most part, reffering to fiberglass classics, not so much wood, and look great being towed behind the customs they are driving.

    Your magazine sounds cool, and when its ready I’d like some info on how to get it, AND I think it will help in spreading the word of vintage, retro, classic, etc. I think something to help spread the word about classic boating, and something I’ve done, is take my boat to car shows. People love to look at them, and it turns the lightbulb in peoples heads to the posibility of owning something like that as an option.

  22. RiverRat
    RiverRat says:

    Not a member of any club, just a wood boat owner with limited time to use them and work on them. Maybe when I get to retirement. if possible, I can join up and participate with the larger group.

  23. Tommyholm
    Tommyholm says:

    Interesting topic for a numbers guy like me.
    I have another stat to share regarding turnover. Both the Century club and the ACBS have an approx 10% turnover annually. If you factor that in we just experienced inflation.

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